Workers at an Australian meat factory which supplies Woolworths are working while infectious with Covid amid a major outbreak, as a union claims many are being forced to turn up for their shifts and wear yellow hairnets to signify they’re infected.
Teys Australia at Naracoorte in South Australia’s south-east has seen more than 140 cases, but has been given special approval by the state’s health department to ‘ensure food security’ amid rising shortages.
A group of Covid-positive staff, who have been told in an internal email they are ‘required to present for work unless you are feeling unwell’, claim they’ve been told to wear ‘special yellow hairnets’ to signify their Covid status.
‘Teys Australia’s behaviour in forcing abattoir workers to keep going into work even when they are infected with the Covid virus is dangerous and disgraceful,’ Australian Council of Trade Unions president Michele O’Neil said.
Teys Australia (pictured) is requiring staff to work at their meat processing facility in SA while infected with Covid
Amid concerns of food shortages, SA Health agreed to give the green light to let a number of staff continue working despite being contagious.
A letter sent to staff on Sunday and seen by the ABC thanks workers for their ‘patience and understanding’.
‘As confirmed by SA Health you are required to present for work tomorrow [Monday] as normal unless you are feeling unwell,’ general manager operations Sage Murray wrote.
‘This applies even if you have tested positive to COVID-19 either by a PCR or rapid test [RAT], and also if you are currently isolating because you are a close contact.’
Tey’s supplies one of the country’s two major supermarkets Woolworths with meat products (pictured, empty shelves at a western Sydney store)
SA Health later confirmed this was the case.
‘To ensure food security, SA Health has allowed a small group of critical staff who have tested positive and are asymptomatic, to continue to work in an isolated area away from others,’ a department spokesperson said.
‘These workers must remain at home and isolate when they are not at work until they are cleared from COVID.’
Ms O’Neil said the decision goes against advice continuously handed out by the government and that workers having to continue to work while infectious was contributing to the outbreak.
‘Anybody who is infectious with the virus should be isolating at home, to keep themselves their coworkers and the entire community safe. This is what governments, both State and Federal, have been telling us now for two years.’
The ACTU claims staff infected with Covid and made to work have to wear yellow hair nets to signify their Covid-positive status (stock image)
Teys Australia is the nation’s second largest meat processing company and is a supplier to major supermarket chain Woolworths, with a large portion of their staff migrant workers.
Cargill, the world’s largest Agribusiness, owns 50 per cent of the company.
A Cargill beef processing facility in High River, Alberta was the site of one of the largest Covid outbreaks in Canada in 2020 and on Tuesday another outbreak at the facility was confirmed, with more than a hundred workers infected.
On Wednesday, Ms O’Neil said that not only should Tey’s not be asking staff to work while infected with Covid but their ‘decision to force workers to wear yellow hairnets to indicate whether or not they are infected with the Covid virus is offensive’.
Supply chain issues have caused supermarket shelves to be bare across the east coast. Woolworths boss Brad Banducci has assured customers there’s plenty of stock (pictured, empty shelves in a Sydney Woolworths)
‘Abattoir workers have literally kept this country fed during the pandemic. They deserve to be treated with respect and dignity, as do all working people,’ Ms O’Neil said.
Woolworths told Daily Mail Australia they were looking into the issue and have a Responsible Sourcing Standards system in place to uphold fair labour conditions and ensure suppliers operate in full compliance with the law.
‘We expect all our suppliers to adhere to the COVID safety protocols set by their relevant state health authorities.’ the spokesperson said.
‘We are looking into the issues raised to ensure current working conditions meet the high labour standards we set for our suppliers.’
This is what the bread aisle looks like at Woolworths Bathurst in central-west NSW in early January (left) and the meat section of a Coles (right)
Thousands of food supply workers across they country have either tested positive to Covid or must isolate as close contacts, leaving many supermarket shelves bare.
Many can only return to work if they take a negative Covid test – but PCR labs remain overloaded while rapid antigen testing kits are in low supply and often sold at huge markups.
This disruption to the supply-chain has caused a shortage in supermarkets and contributed to empty shelves across Australia’s east coast.
Supermarkets have been experiencing supply-chain issues in recent weeks with many stores running low on stock (pictured: a Queensland Coles store on Monday)
Ms O’Neil demanded workers have access to free and ‘easy to obtain’ Rapid Antigen Tests, along with proper PPE like N95 or P2 standard face masks and the safety net of Paid Pandemic Leave.
‘Scott Morrison must immediately rule out workers being forced to work while infected with COVID and abandon plans to water down OH&S laws when National Cabinet meets.’
Daily Mail Australia has contacted Tey’s Australia for comment.